The Era of the Speakeasy: Prohibition in Charm City

The Roaring Twenties were described this way in the City Paper a decade ago:

“Unprecedented economic prosperity put money in everyone’s pockets in the ’20s. And the newly prosperous turned around and spent it on electric gadgets and state-of-the-art kitchen appliances (Crosley radios and gas stoves, not DVD players and cappuccino machines). Women won the right to vote, jazz music ruled the airwaves, and Charles Lindbergh made the world a little smaller with the first trans-Atlantic flight. The ’20s were heady, hedonistic times, but of course Prohibition (1920-’33) kept everyone from getting too happy.

Despite the Volstead Act and the revenuers, however, most people drank more than ever before. In fact, many of the most familiar and popular cocktails of the alcoholic pantheon were created during Prohibition–invention (i.e., adding fruit, juice, and soda) mothered by the necessity of covering up the awful taste of bootleg liquor. The sheiks and shebas of the ’20s liked to drink their sidecars in the supper clubs and cabarets of the era, which often served as fronts for speakeasies.”

We are lucky to have a great blog on the topic of “Prohibition in Baltimore”, written by a University of Baltimore history student. From the December 3, 2009 post:

“While the Drys were convinced that those who drank were immoral and uncontrolled, the Wets were convinced that their counterparts were lunatics and religious fanatics. It’s hard to pick which side was crazier because according to Dr. Harry Goldsmith, the whole city’s population was going insane. He said in the New York Times, “the insane population in this city had almost doubled since 1910. The increase amounted to 90 per cent, while the general population grew only to 36 per cent.” Goldsmith also emphasized that Prohibition was one of the chief causes of increased mental disorders. One out of every nine mental cases he handled could be traced to Prohibition.

If you were lucky, however, you could get a prescription for liquor. This loophole obviously had some problems. According to Mills, by the end of March 1920, “the entire Maryland-D.C. supply of seventy thousand whiskey prescription blanks had been exhausted.” And the ills, not surprisingly, always seemed to manifest themselves around the weekends and the holidays.”

Another post discusses speakeasies:

“Crackdowns aside, drinking joints abounded in Baltimore. Eric Mills lists some places where people would go to get drinks:
John C.Murder’s saloon at 4536 Harford Rd
Jerry Bee’s saloon at 2000 West Lanvale St
the Iola Athletic and Pleasure Club at 109 Parkin St
the Hotel Leland bar at 1610 Pennsylvania Ave.
the Biddle Street saloon
the Laurens Street saloon
Seymour’s Mulberry Street watering hole
Nixon’s Cafe,
the black saloon at the corner of Gough and Dallas Streets
The Diamond Cafe at 311 West Franklin
Ivory Booker’s beer hall at 15 North Frederick
Maurice Finn and Charlie Mitchell’s place at 3 North Frederick
Eddie Vaeth’s saloon at 300 Light St
the Lithuanian Hall at Hollins and Parkin

Baltimore was a traditionally a big beer town, robustly so, with its strong German and Irish influences and a renowned zest for steamed crab consumption. So it would make sense that in Baltimore, a red crab in the window of a restaurant meant “saloon in the backroom. A sign advertising “seafood” meant likewise.”

Explains a lot, doesn’t it, Baltimore? Cheers!

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